The Major and the Minor (Directors Suite) (1942)
Featurette-Hollwood Remembers: Ray Milland
Featurette-Hollwood Remembers: Ginger Rogers
Booklet-Essay by Karli Lucas
|Year Of Production||1942|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Billy Wilder|
Lela E. Rogers
|RPI||?||Music||Robert Emmett Dolan|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.37:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
The great Billy Wilder came to Hollywood from his native Poland in 1933. A poor immigrant Wilder taught himself English and slaved away as a scriptwriter before getting his first chance to direct with The Major and the Minor.
The film had been kicking around for a while. It was based on an unsuccessful Broadway play which was itself based on a short story. Wilder worked with regular co-writer Charles Brackett and turned out the film on budget and on time. It earned a tidy profit at the box office cementing Wilders reputation as an efficient and reliable filmmaker.
Madman have produced this DVD as part of its Directors Suite. Five Graves to Cairo was recently released and Double Indemnity (his second and third films respectively) came out last year. I certainly hope that the series continues as it gives film fans the chance to not only relive their favourite Wilder films but also to look at some of the interesting but less famous films.
The Major and the Minor is a film that has all but disappeared from the radar today. Susan Applegate ( Ginger Rogers ) is a small town girl who has had enough of the big city. Unable to find regular work, she finally snaps when propositioned by a customer (comic Robert Benchley) whilst doing her 25th job - scalp masseuse. She makes the momentous decision to leave the big city and return home to her small town, her ageing mother and an old boyfriend who can't stop proposing to her. Lucky for her that she has kept the return train fare to her home town. Unlucky for her the train fare has gone up!
Forced to improvise, Susan decides to dress as a schoolkid and becomes "Su Su" - a 12 year old girl! Although she gets a ticket the conductors don't believe that she is so young despite her claims that she is from Swedish Stock and has gland problems. She is about to get caught when she rushes into the cabin of a kindly army major Phillip Kirby (Ray Milland). He has been to Washington to try to convince the powers that be to let him into active service. His chances are slim. He has a bung eye and a fiancé, Pamela, who has powerful girlfriends in Washington who can pull a few strings to make sure he stays where he is.
Fate conspires to keep the pair together and Su Su travels with the Major to the military academy where she is the subject of the hormonal interest of the young cadets. She bunks up with Pamela's sister, who springs her right away, and joins the sister in a scheme to get the major back into active service. What follows is a strange farce as Susan falls for the major, the major develops his own feelings for her and she struggles to keep her identity under wraps.
The film is little remembered today although at the time it represented something important for each of the key players. As I said Billy Wilder got his first assignment behind the camera and never looked back, creating a winning streak through the 40's that was unparalleled. The Major and the Minor represented another step away from musicals for Ginger Rogers. Since 1939 she had decided to branch out and even won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in 1940's Kitty Foyle. Though a success at the box office this film did not lead to a hugely successful mainstream career for Ginger and it is widely accepted that her stardom began a gradual decline after the war. This is probably not surprising. Rogers makes a chipper lead in this film but one of the high points is when she does a few impromptu dance steps. The fact is that Ginger was such an electrifying dancer that to see her doing anything else is interesting but not as satisfying.
For Ray Milland this film was another solid effort at playing the Jimmy Stewart role of the slightly confused but ever so handsome leading man. His own star rose throughout the 40's with a number of great roles, including the Oscar he scored for Billy Wilders The Lost Weekend.
The film is a sprightly comedy with no great aspirations. For the modern audience, however, it does hit a giant brick wall. Whichever way you cut it, it is difficult to imagine a modern studio green lighting a film about a love growing between a man and a 12 year old girl. If it was made today it would be a drama and the man would be in prison by the end! It was no doubt an issue at the time too as there are no scenes of Su Su in a tender embrace with the major. In a sleight of hand, however, there are scenes where Su Su has to beat off the amorous charms of teenage boys at the Academy. It was fascinating to see how Wilder would develop the romantic aspect of the film. He does so with a few expressions of "love trouble" on Milland's face.
The film is funny in parts and the leads have some real fun with their roles. There is even the sole film appearance by Rogers real mother playing, what else, her stage mother. There are also some charming moments between Ginger and the sister although I found a troubling streak of misogyny running through the cadet boys.
Anyone watching the film today will have to watch it as a document of the past to get past the subject matter and appreciate the humour. In one key scene everyone is horrified that the major had a woman in his train cabin. All is resolved in laughter when the "woman" is revealed to be Su Su. Nowadays the horror would have doubled!
The Major and the Minor had an original aspect ratio of the Academy flat standard of 1.37:1. This DVD presents the film at 1.33:1 in a Full Frame transfer.
Like Five Graves to Cairo ,which I recently reviewed, this film has been the subject of a restoration. Surprisingly, it has not fared as well as that picture despite the fact that it was only one year earlier. There are no problems with artefacts, the print is remarkably clear of blobs and scratches. However, the level of film grain is pretty high and is noticeable throughout giving the film a somewhat darker look than Wilder probably intended. If I was to make an uneducated guess I would suggest that the restoration team were faced with the choice of having significant grain or softening the picture. It is not a huge problem but it effects the skin tones of the actors. The picture itself is reasonably sharp.
Aside from the grain, the transfer is highly commendable and there are no problems with damage although a slight flickering can be discerned at times. The contrast looks about right (leaving aside the grain issue).
There are no subtitles.
The Major and The Minor is presented in a Dolby Digital Dual Track Mono running at 224Kb/s.
The sound is pretty good. The dialogue is clear and the soundtrack is clean and with very little background noise. The dialogue can be heard and understood. The few moments where I did have trouble I put down to the accents of the actors. Milland is Shakespearian clear.
I did not discern any audio sync problems.
The music is by 40's legend (8 times Oscar nominated - never won) Robert Emmett Dolan. As might be expected the score is jaunty and comedic. The recording is a little old and tired but acceptable.
|Surround Channel Use|
I have always been unimpressed by the Hollywood Remembers series and each new one I watch cements my dislike. For the uninitiated they are a chronological guide to the career of the actor, cheesily narrated and composed almost entirely of excerpts from film trailers, presumably in an attempt to avoid paying the studios for the excerpts. As a result we learn very little about the actor concerned.
Ray Milland is an interesting subject for a documentary short. Always at the edge of success he was never at the top of the heap, even when he won his Oscar for The Lost Weekend. His career was sad in some ways as he passed from leading man status fairly quickly through to fathers and old man roles, ending up in a series of truly dire horror flicks. The trailers on show here are very average quality (both picture and content), particularly the one for The Frogs which looks like the horror frogs have been chomping on it!
The only interesting moment was the footage of Milland getting his Oscar.
The feature on Ginger Rogers fares a little bit better but only because, as it happens, so many of her amazing dance routines were featured in the trailers. But, again, there is not enough substance and it is sad to see nothing from Kitty Foyle. The Major and the Minor is overlooked in both documentaries. So whilst Hollywood Remembers the actors it sure has forgotten this film!
The trailer is a fun scramble through the film that emphasises that Ginger is not 12.
The booklet essay by Karli Lucas , writer and filmmaker, is a suitably light affair concentrating on the sparkle and pure joy of the film. She sees other reasons , as well as it's subject matter, for the low reputation of the film including the short shrift given to romantic comedies and the view prevalent many year ago, that Wilder was too much of a populist director to be taken seriously as an artist.
The essay is a good read and a worthy extra.
As far as I can tell this film is available in Region 1 only as part of the Ginger Rogers Collection. Region 2 does have a version coupled with another Rogers film but I can't comment on the quality. Region 4 has a coup on its hands with this release.
The Major and the Minor is a film that should not have worked due to its subject matter. The fact that it does is a testament to the skill of Billy Wilder.
No one could really complain about the standard of the transfer. It is only seen to be lacking when compared to other Madman titles.
Apart from the booklet the extras are a little on the fluff side.
|DVD||Pioneer DVR 630H-S, using Component output|
|Display||Panasonic TH-50PV60A 50' Plasma. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Amplification||Onkyo TX - SR603|
|Speakers||Onkyo 6.1 Surround|